Last Updated on February 28, 2022 by Allison Price
Ears pinning can indicate that your mare feels threatened or threatened by anyone approaching. As we look at her behavior, we’ll be able determine how to make her happy – provided that there are no medical reasons.
First, horse behavior has evolved to serve a specific purpose in the natural world. Although horses have been domesticated (subjects to captive breeding programs), most of their natural behavior has remained unchanged. This is evident in their ability to become feral. Domesticated animals can return to freedom and natural selection. The American Mustang is a classic example.
Are you angry or afraid?
If a horse puts its ears back, it’s indicating fright, anger, or a combination of both.
Pinching the ears helps protect them from being bit by predatory attacks, other horses fighting in a fight, e.g. Stallions are more likely to fight for sexual partners or other valuable resources like sexual partners. Horses that feel threatened or angry will automatically pull their ears back.
Fear and aggression are both mediated by the amygdala, which is located in the limbic system. This part of the brain controls emotions. Scientists who study the neural bases of emotion have known for a long time that anger can stimulate fear. I suggest that your mare is feeling threatened and should be threatening herself.
It is the way she is approached that causes her to feel defensive and angry. Your mare is aware that humans can bring out this behavior in horses, but it doesn’t happen to every horse. Here’s where you need to get detective: What significant event(s), can the human approach predict?
Do you or others do something that causes pain or terror to your horse? It could be anything, from a painful injury to the horse, to pinching in the saddle, to training aids or to discipline unwanted behavior. Horses can become irritable when they fear that humans will give them harsh, frightening treatment, a shout, or a slap. They are aggressive in fear, but they get the predicted treatment. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
How do you know if your mare is afraid of something? Your mare might only give subtle clues, e.g. Increased facial tension, making her chin pointy, a clenched lower jaw that protrudes, furrowed eyebrows, triangular-shaped eyes and fast, shallow breathing are all signs of mares. Horses often escalate to more aggressive means of flight or fight when these subtle clues fail.
Aggression stemming out of frustration could also be a possible explanation. So ask yourself, what is her frustration? Are you or others limiting her ability to earn rewards or solve training puzzles or gain new skills? What are her living conditions like? Can she ride a horse without restrictions? Is she allowed to freely browse a wide range of plants during the day and at night? You can interact with horses, including mass grazing, sleeping, mutual grooming and play.
Chronic stress is caused by a lack of ability to control and predict these natural and normal behaviors. It can also lead to greater reactivity to small irritations. These natural rewards can be used in training, such as food. You should ensure that your mare understands the difference between food rewards and not so that she doesn’t get frustrated by this valuable resource.
Your mare will be more attracted to you if you offer food rewards. She will begin to associate you with happy feelings and a happier attitude. This is true for both young horses and riding school ponies. It can take some time for horses that have been associated with fear or anger to change their attitudes. This is why you might need expert guidance from someone who has experience in using reward-based training.
You can also stop any that are not necessary – those that don’t serve a useful purpose either for your horse or you. You can stop those that cause fear but are essential because your mare will avoid them. This is called’systematic dersitization’.
You can present them in a dilute form without causing any more than a slight flinching or tightening the facial muscles until your mare stops responding. You should make sure she makes the decision, and avoid any inescapable situations.
This behavior will teach your mare that it will make them disappear, which is what she wants most. After this is done, you can ‘countercondition’ your mare by combining the stimuli with rewards just before removing them. This will allow her to act in anticipation and not in apprehension.
While I have previously emphasized the benefits of reward-based training, as well as warned about the pitfalls, it is important to remember that horses tend to associate trainers with pressure. The release is simply that, a relief form something aversive. The fact that horses must feel free from the pressure is more important than any positive effects that the release might have on their feelings about their trainers.
Let go of all negative aspects in your mare’s lives and focus on the positives.